Respect for nature provides inspiration of stunning images
“Who doesn’t love a sunset?” asks photographer Jan Davies. She said this photo is actually three images stacked using a technique called high dynamic range, which allows the photographer to utilize over- and underexposed images in order to create a photo with more range of light and contrast, which is closer to what the human eye can see. Photo by Jan Davies
“Though I grew up in the suburbs, my calling was always outside — to go camping and backpacking and to follow the flora and fauna of our natural world,” Lake Almanor photographer Jan Davies said. She also said her dad taught her to appreciate all creatures with curiosity and awe.
“It was common for our family to take day trips out to the desert or mountains for exploring and collecting. I recall bringing home such odd things in tubs as horned toads, scorpions, turtles and fossils,” she added.
She said she had no fear of the wide variety of living things, only respect.
“I find the natural world endlessly fascinating and infinitely entertaining. You simply never know what gift will be dropped at your feet, or discovered on your camera,” Davies said.
She is well-known and respected for both her creativity and skill behind the camera and that is most likely the result of her early education in the arts.
“From the time I was very young I was exposed to the appreciation of art, design and photography through my mother’s love of the Southwest.
“She gave me a visual introduction to David Muench of Arizona Highways, National Geographic, Ansel Adams and the great American and Western landscape artistry of the 20th century,” she said.
As a child, Davies frequented the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, and the Huntington Library and Botanical Garden, the last two of which were close enough to her home that she could travel to those locations by bicycle.
Since her move to the North State, her love of wildlife and photography skills have delighted many and her photographs have often been featured on the front page of the Chester Progressive newspaper.
“My fascination with birds is equally shared with all creatures, really. The gift of birds is their great variety not only visually but in activity, personality and behavior.
“Add the ability to fly and now you have something really worth watching. It is such fun to photograph their antics and the stop-action of flight. There is a real attraction to capturing all critters, as they are busy in life, raising their young, finding their next meal,” Davies said.
She said she finds it great fun to snap away, only to “discover she has captured great moments frozen in time that the human eye can’t register in normal speed.”
“I think what led me to photography was the ability to creatively visualize, to ‘see’ the world captured first in my mind’s eye, to want to freeze a moment, and then to share it. I love the seduction of light, how it is reflected in contrast, texture, detail, composition, color … studying the work of masters only impels me to want some tiny taste of that feeling that can be created with one image,” she said.
No art is without challenge
Davies said there have been two challenges about the field of photography in her life.
First are the technical and mechanical limitations (and cost) of working in 35 mm film.
“During school and up through my 20s I was always frustrated to not see on film what I was seeing in my mind. Of course, the advent of digital has turned that issue on its head.
“When I got my first digital camera in 2006 that was ‘more than’ your basic point-and-shoot pocket cam, things really took off,” she said.
Which brought her to the second challenge.
“There is a quality in my family of perfectionism. When at first you don’t succeed, it takes determination and struggle to continue on ‘imperfectly.’
“But I realized there was a learning curve that needed to happen. Neither through intellectual study nor being trained by others so much as ‘paying my dues’ so I decided to let go of my need to turn out great photos right away,” she said.
She also said, “This is easier said than done. When you get something right, whether it is art or service or mechanics, your brain pops off a nice hit of serotonin, the human happy pill, and we all want more of that, right?”
To overcome that challenge she paced herself and shot about 7,500 images a year, all the while letting her brain learn by doing, observing and passively noticing every detail in the process.
“You can learn this through a form of brain cell osmosis, without cataloguing every action for future use. I quickly found process journals to be tedious and distracting and I quit worrying about success and simply shot anything and everything that seemed interesting to me,” Davies said.
She said she enjoys taking trips to new places or spending time in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
“Of course I am most drawn to following nature in my own yard, the drama of Lake Almanor weather, and the exquisite geographic surroundings,” she said.
Dedicating time to her craft
“I try to spend at least one day a week strictly on photos, plus a few long evenings; time in the field varies from day to day and week to week,” Davies said.
She said it takes hours to review, select and process the RAW images, which are the highest quality images digital cameras can take.
“A RAW image carries all the available light the camera sensor can register. But with RAW I can develop an image digitally in the way a film artist uses the dark room; this is where the vision in my mind hopes to meet up with the image on the monitor.
She said at the end of the day, a good selection process results in about 10 percent of her photos being worth keeping and editing, and about 2 – 3 percent that are worth sharing with the public.
“I have been using mostly Canon bodies and Canon or Sigma lenses. I am using equipment that is deemed for the ‘enthusiast’; my latest camera body is the Canon EOS 70D mounted with a 70 – 300 mm lens and I also have a mid-size Nikon D5000 with an 18 – 200 mm Sigma lens.
“It is frankly amazing the quality that can be produced on this level of equipment, compared to the components the pros use that can cost tens of thousands of dollars,” she said.
Beauty and health
“My closing thought about photography that I want to share has to do with the mindful quality of taking photographs.
“It is a very Buddhist thing to do. I become one with the object for a time — my observation is a form of meditation; my breath and heart must quiet to follow, to know, to feel the beauty and activity around me.
“To connect with nature, to one’s own instincts, is very powerful. For some this happens out hunting or fishing, knitting or painting, cooking or even digging a ditch. It doesn’t matter so much what you are doing as how you move into the action, become the experience rather than living outside it.
“Perhaps what makes my photos compelling for people is this quality of presence rather than just looking at something to take its picture,” she said.
More about Davies
Jan Davies has lived in Plumas County since 1977 when she moved here from the Los Angeles suburbs of San Gabriel Valley.
She lived in Greenville until 1981 when she met Lake Almanor resident Bill Davies. The two were married in 1983. Bill is a native-born local, who attended school in Greenville.
Davies wears many hats, including working in private practice as a whole health educator (integrative health coach) and spiritual consultant.
She has also helped manage Bill’s backhoe business for almost 25 years, running his office and occasionally a tractor!
“I have spent over 20 years working as a patient care volunteer with Sierra Hospice, past board president and bereavement director, though now I work mostly on the fringes of hospice,” Davies said.